Religious Studies | Topics in Religious Studies
R202 | 10049 | Stalnaker

Topic: Conceptions of Self: East & West

It is a truism that different cultures propound different visions of
human life.  But what are we as contemporary residents of an
increasingly heterogeneous nation to make of this diversity?  Do we
have any rational basis for evaluating the alternative possibilities
for life presented by different religious and philosophical
traditions?  This course examines important, indeed classic,
statements on the nature of human existence from the ancient and
modern West, and from East Asia, and endeavors to sensitively
compare these diverse visions of human life without capitulating to
nihilism, relativism, or self-satisfied cultural chauvinism.
Traditions to be examined include Confucianism, Daoism,
Christianity, Marxism, and contemporary democratic political
theory.  Recurring issues include the character and relation of
reason and emotions; the nature and source of saving dispositions;
understandings of the relation of our more animal and more human
sides; problems in life that are thought to deform the self; the
need, if any, for transcendent forces to actualize the self; the
form of and rationale for various practices of self-cultivation; and
the relation of individual and communal flourishing.  All readings
are in English translation.